COVID-19 has been the source of many significant changes in the restaurant industry in just a few short months. From dining room closings to contactless takeout or delivery to redesigning dining rooms for proper social distancing and much more, restaurant owners have had to be exceptionally quick on their feet just to stay afloat.
In the midst of all these unprecedented changes, it can be easy to overlook or decrease the time we devote to good, old-fashioned marketing. When all else seems to be chaos, however, it’s more important than ever to remember the importance of keeping your restaurant top of mind for all of those past and potential customers who now find themselves on their couches re-binging that show about the tiger guy.
Let’s review some of the best ways to make your restaurant the one they call when it’s time for a between-show meal break.
Show your gumption
Yes, times are tough—it’s a challenge to keep the doors open and your employees paid, and every order helps. The trouble is, times are tough for the rest of us as well.
Most people will be sympathetic to your plight, and we all want to help each other out as much as possible, but dwelling too much on the difficulty of your own situation is just going to make you sound whiny. No one likes whiny.
Instead, acknowledge that these are weird, hard times for everyone, and then let customers know what you’re going to do to make things more convenient, tastier, or just a little bit better than they would be otherwise.
Remind them that there’s no need to go without their favorite restaurant fare, and then let them know exactly how you’re going to get it into their hands quickly and safely. Don’t assume they can figure it out on their own. Don’t expect them to assume your delivery methods are safe—tell them exactly what you’re doing to make it safe.
When people see that you’re doing everything you can to make things better for them, they’re going to be more likely to want to help make things better for you.
Speaking of focusing on others, take a good look around your community.
Schools are closed, and that means that there are children from low-income (or now even no-income) families who aren’t getting the daily school breakfasts and lunches that they’ve come to rely on.
As a restaurant, you’re uniquely positioned to help. Consider offering simple, nutritious meals to children who need it, or donate a percentage of each order’s proceeds to local food banks or other community resources.
Rethink your menu offerings and think outside the box as to how you can best serve a homebound clientele. Offer pre-packaged meal kits and then offer video cooking lessons on your website. Have you offered live entertainment in the past? Those musicians are suffering too. Consider offering video performances that customers can live stream or watch on your website with virtual tip jars and links to the artist’s website or their Spotify presence.
On March 26, the US Food and Drug Administration issued temporary guidance to allow restaurants to more easily sell their food inventory directly to consumers during the COVID-19 outbreak. Take this opportunity to open a temporary, mini-general store where your customers can get essentials like fresh produce, sauces, and spices without having to worry about exposure to the masses of people at grocery stores.
Be creative! The more unique experiences or offerings you provide, the more likely that people will choose you when it comes time to order out.
A lot. Get the word out in any way you can.
Get your website updated, and make sure it’s mobile compatible. Studies show that over 80% of consumers have searched for a restaurant on their mobile device. That’s a number that’s undoubtedly growing as a result of COVID quarantine.
Up your social media game. 72% of customers have based their choice of restaurant on Facebook ratings and comments. And if you’re looking for a younger clientele, Millennial and Gen Z customers are 99% more likely to choose a restaurant based on social media and online reviews than older generations. Remain active – and interactive – on your social accounts. Show appreciation for positive comments. Over 71% of customers say they’re more likely to recommend a restaurant that quickly responds to them on social media and customers generally spend up to 40% more at restaurants that engage with them on social media.
Customer engagement and responsiveness.
These are perhaps the two most important things to remember when it comes to restaurant marketing in this age of Social Media and information overload.
But information overload is not something you need to worry about so much at the moment. Communicate. Communicate. And then communicate some more.
Share your hours, open locations, special offerings and deals, delivery platforms, safety measures. Share everything. In a time when everything else can seem so uncertain, knowledge is comfort. And the less effort customers have to put into learning about your services, the more likely they will be to use them.